Photo by John Eden for Atlantic Records
“When I saw the article and that happy picture of me I was thinking… oh crap, here we go,” says vocalist Dave Coutts, former frontman of the bands Ten Inch Men and Talk Show, the latter essentially Stone Temple Pilots minus singer Scott Weiland in 1997.
He was referring to a brief interview he did a year or so ago, one that would go viral as a result of him trashing STP’s then-upcoming singer auditions, saying “they’re in their own cover band”. “It’s not that I would rebuke anything said, but there were things the writer left out that I said about myself, and justifications for comments were left out.”
Communicating with Dave over the last few weeks and hearing his side of the story makes you get a sense of his self-deprecating humor and unfiltered honesty. Not much has ever been known about the mysterious Coutts, who suddenly appeared in the mainstream musical world and left just as abruptly.
Dave had a musical upbringing as a child; in his own words, “I liked everything: rock, pop, soul. Cat Stevens, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Ted Nugent, Rush, and everything in between.” His mother owned Neil Diamond’s live album, Hot August Night, a record that would remain influential to him.
Ten Inch Men formed in 1982 with Dave on vocals, keyboard player Jim Schumacher, guitarist Mark Templin, bassist Rusty Riopelle, and Dave’s brother, Steve Coutts, on drums. TiM gained some notoriety on college radio stations, and despite some bumps in the road with lineup changes, a solid body of work was put forth despite never actually signed to a major label.
Dave first met STP’s bassist, Robert DeLeo, in Huntington Beach at some point in the late 1980’s; at this point in time, Robert was in a band with a young Scott Weiland. Called Swing, this project predated STP’s earliest incarnation as Mighty Joe Young. It was a fuzzy time in Dave’s memory, and at the time nobody could have predicted Swing’s meteoric rise to fame.
“Swing opened up for us,” remembers Dave. “At the time, Dean [DeLeo] and Eric [Kretz] were not part of the band. I wish I could say they impressed me but I don’t remember much, except Scott was wearing sunglasses while he sang.”
The connection made there was put on the backburner for years. Despite some building momentum and an appearance in a Hellraiser soundtrack, Ten Inch Men would break up in 1993. “Ten Inch Men were offered to open up for Bon Jovi and play soccer stadiums in Europe for 3 months. This would have cost our record company $23,000. They said they had to put that money into a Yes comeback record, so we could not go. That’s when I decided to hang up the Ten Inch Men gig. Ten years was long enough, and I wasn’t getting any younger.”
As Ten Inch Men were disintegrating, STP were taking off with their debut album, Core. STP were preparing for the release of their second record, Purple, while working very hard to fight off sophomore slump and critics who didn’t take kindly to their debut. It was during this time that STP frontman Scott Weiland’s heroin use began to really take a firm hold of his life, derailing the band’s momentum. As early as 1994, soon after the release of Purple in June, talks of getting a new frontman began taking shape. Robert DeLeo remembered Dave Coutts.
“One year [after Ten Inch Men broke up], I was contacted by STP’s manager, Steve Stewart. He asked if I was interested in fronting the band. Yes, it overlapped with some of their tour dates, looking back. I am sure I was going to be their plan B. Or maybe just the thing to get Scott sober.”
After meeting the guys at his place of work in 1994, preparations went ahead for a potential Scott-less STP. Coutts recorded a demo version of the Talk Show tune “Hide” with them in San Diego. In 1995, Robert and Dean DeLeo started writing more material that could have easily ended up being sung by either Scott or Dave. It was unclear to Coutts whether or not they would continue as STP without Scott. “At that time I don’t think they had decided which way it was gonna happen.”
Despite having Dave in their back pocket, STP stuck behind Scott for another album. The recording sessions for their third record, Tiny Music… Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop, ultimately ended up being a “nightmare”. Though STP put out what is arguably the greatest album of their career, everything quickly plummeted immediately thereafter: Scott was arrested on drug charges in mid-1996. The band’s plan to use Dave as their ace in the hole to get Scott clean didn’t pan out, and they were left with no choice but to go ahead with what would turn into Talk Show.
“[STP] still had not toured outside the U.S,” Dave explained. “Scott was getting into trouble and holding them back. They had their legitimate reasons to be upset with him.”
“Dean thought of the name [Talk Show] if I remember correctly, because he thought everyone was talking about what was going on with STP, Scott, new singer rumors.” Dave admits he wasn’t a fan of the name. Another potential name suggested by Dave was 14:59: “one second short of fifteen minutes.” The name, while rejected by the band, was well liked by at least one person at Atlantic, who passed it along to Sugar Ray, who used it for their third album (featuring their massive hit, “Every Morning”).
With STP’s discography undergoing the law of diminishing returns in terms of sales, tension was high, and there was tremendous pressure for this new project to succeed. It reflected in the studio. The record was known to be recorded between July 27 and August 23, 1996; it could have taken even longer than a month, up to ten weeks, according to Dave. “It took eleven days just to get the amps in!”
“Recording with the band was mostly fine, if not a little mechanical,” Dave said. “I would not say we had a blast and partied all night. I’m sure all people involved knew what this record might do so there was a serious vibe going on most of the time.”
The end result was a tight, eponymous twelve song package. Talk Show definitely had more of the Britpop gleam that was going on at the time, with Dave’s crisp vocals and cheeky lyrics harkening back to classic bands like the Beatles and Queen. It was a natural continuation of what the STP guys had going on in Tiny Music, with its own identity. Highlights include “John”, a snappy pop rock song, “Behind”, a moody, Beatlesque (post-LSD) ballad, and album opener “Ring Twice”, lyrics by drummer Eric Kretz.
When I told Dave I liked the record, he replied self-deprecatingly: “Thanks, you are in the minority.”
Many weren’t quite ready to accept STP without Scott Weiland. Perhaps the world just wasn’t quite ready for such a project, considering STP had a lot left in their tank creatively and were struck down too soon. However, the intense scorn for the record thrown around by some parts of the fanbase may have been the vocal minority at work.
Says David Cameo, owner of one of the largest STP groups on Facebook, “…if you are going to judge Dave Coutts, do it in isolation. I’ve spoken to folks who, believe it or not, found STP through Talk Show. Even though they recognize the collective body of work of Stone Temple Pilots and stand in awe, they still acknowledge the playful, lightheartedness Dave brings to the music, the complexity the DeLeo brothers continued to bring to the music on that album, and how, overall, it’s just a kick-ass, fun album.”
“Hello Hello” (a poppy tune juxtaposed with lyrics about embracing your inner dark side) was the first and only single released by Talk Show, hitting Number 10 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart in October 1997. It even got a snappy music video.
To promote the record, Talk Show went on the road with Aerosmith and the still brand new Foo Fighters. “I’ve seen Talk Show live at Roseland Ballroom – now shut down – and it lived up to the hype,” says Cameo. “Between Coutts’s excellent voice and being reintroduced to the DeLeo brothers in a new setting, it was the break from STP that we needed.”
Coutts remembers his touring days with the Foo Fighters fondly, and even got the chance to bond with Dave Grohl. “I remember one night after about 10 shows in a row, [Dave Grohl] brought me some tea that makes your throat feel better after screaming all night. All of the Foos were very cool, Taylor [Hawkins] just a crazy funny kid wearing his surf trunks. All very talented. Aerosmith, again all great, real people. I sat and did vocal warm ups with Steven Tyler a couple times.”
Talk Show even got to go on Howard Stern, which was a pinnacle moment of Dave’s tenure with the band. “I was a bit locked up on interviews and even on stage for a few reasons. But at that interview, I just couldn’t stop thinking, Is this really happening right now?”
“Howard was cool… Robin? No.”
Despite these solid foundations (in spite of the mixed fan reception), the record premiered at #131 on the Billboard Hot 200. Sales were disappointing, and poor marketing didn’t exactly help either.
“It would have been nice to get to a second single!” Dave says in retrospect. Perhaps it was a desire by Atlantic Records to force the band’s hand in reuniting with Scott Weiland, who was currently mired in the height of his drug problems and recording his brilliant solo album, 12 Bar Blues.
“[Atlantic higher ups] flew out to have a listen to the final mix in Los Angeles. This guy came into the room we were sitting in before he even heard our stuff and said ‘Hey Dean, when are you getting back with Scott?’ I don’t think the record company ever really wanted this thing to happen.”
With Talk Show essentially left out to dry by Atlantic by mid-1998, and Scott ready to reunite with the DeLeos and Kretz after the similar commercial failure of his own solo album, the band was no more. Not much was said to Coutts during this time period. STP went on to record their 1999 hard rock opus, No. 4. The only song written on the road with Dave Coutts after recording Talk Show, “Saturday”, was reconfigured as the song “Glide” on that record with Scott on lead vocals.
Ten Inch Men and Talk Show were both no more, and Dave, now gig-less, had to weigh his options.
“After I was quietly banished from the Talk Show Family Wagon, it was pretty surreal back home. Before I left for tour I had people calling me that I had not heard from in 20 years wanting free tickets to our shows. Now it was really quiet, and I had to decide what to do after that 3.5 year roller coaster ride. I was 36, not a puppy anymore, Tracey (my lovely and hot wife) and I knew If we were going to have kids, we better get going. I did not vacate music completely, I recorded some stuff, but we had three kids in four years.”
“I also still had a pretty bad taste in my mouth for the music thing,” Dave explained. “I felt like I sucked and should just stay the hell away from it for a while.”
Coutts, now a family man, lives in Orange County, California working a steady job outside of the music industry. He considers himself to be in a good place. Dave even stays in touch with Robert DeLeo, trading phone calls as recently as 2016. Dave approves of Jeff Gutt as the band’s new frontman, saying: “I think he is great. I am digging the new recordings too.”
Sadly, personal loss might have been what inspired Dave to ease back into music. “My friend, keyboard player, writer, singer Jimmy Schumacher from the early days of Ten Inch Men, passed away a year ago in May. He left us way too early, at his funeral I saw some old friends and musicians. Was invited to a show, met more friends, bought an amp and it kind of went from there.”
The end result was “To The Ocean”, Dave’s first solo single. It is inspired by the tidal wave of iconic singers passing over the last few years: Scott Weiland, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, David Bowie, and so on. The subject of the song, “John”, encompasses all these men, in addition to being a callback to the Talk Show song of the same name. “I met a very talented guy named Marty Beal in a very strange way at a club… wound up in his studio, Racket Room in Santa Ana, and we did Ocean. He did all the tracks except some guitar parts that I did and vocals.”
For now, Dave plans to release a number of singles over time, and is mulling over the idea of a studio album. His next plan is to finally record “Saturday”, the unreleased Talk Show-cum-STP ballad. He’s jamming with a band called The Leftovers, whom he describes as “covers/original group of three great guys: Mick, Mark and George from Long Beach, CA.”
“To The Ocean” is his first step back into doing what he loves, free of any record labels ready to dust him at a second’s notice or expectations to fill another man’s shoes. Fuck the haters and naysayers, do what you love. Life’s too short.
(P.S.A. from Dave: If you look up my band Ten Inch Men on Youtube, you may have to add my name + Ten Inch Men to the search or some weird shit might pop up.)